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EHRs for a Small Planet

Right now, American health care information technology is undergoing two enormous leaps. First, it is moving onto Web-based and mobile platforms – which are less expensive and facilitate information exchange – and away from client-server enterprise-centric technologies, which are more expensive and have limited interoperability. In addition, more EHR development activity is headed into the cloud, driven by large consumer-based firms with the technological depth to take it there. Both these trends will facilitate greater openness, lower user cost, improved ease of use, and faster adoption of EHRs.

But they could also impact the shape of EHR technologies in another profoundly important way. What is often lost in our discussions about electronic health record technology in the US is the relationship these tools have to our health and health care problems…globally. We could be designing our health IT in ways that are good for the health of people both here and around the world, not simply to enhance care in the US.

Designing health data and management tools only for the particular operational needs of the current US health system may be doubly wrongheaded: It risks locking us into outdated technology and an expensive, dead-end path, while, at the same time, it could restrict collaborative exchanges of ideas and innovations that could improve health care here and abroad through better designed information technology.

Perhaps we should design EHRs for a small planet.

Rene Dubos (1901-1982) was a microbiologist who produced the first commercially marketed antibiotic. He also wrote widely about the relationship of humans with their environment, notably in So Human an Animal (1968), which won a Pullitzer Prize. In 1972, with economist Barbara Ward, he co-authored Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet, which set the issues and tone for the first major international conference on the environment. Dubos also first used the term “think globally, act locally,” advice to consider the widest possible consequences of our behaviors, but to take action in our own communities.

What would our EHR technology design efforts in the US look like if we incorporated Dubos’ more expansive framework? What principles might shift our thinking about EHRs away from America’s failing health system paradigm — with its illusion of unlimited resources, delivered by a fixed and ritualized set of professionals and institutions, and costs that double with each passing decade — towards a vision in which EHRs promote sustainable efforts in disease prevention, health improvement, social responsibility, and environmental protection? How might we think about EHRs globally while acting locally?

Principle 1: Define success with local health and health care problems in mind.

Defining EHR success is important, partly because US federal policy for EHR adoption is currently so dynamic. It would be easy to simply define success in terms of physicians’ short term acquisition of today’s EHRs, and the economic boost that might result from new government IT spending (e.g., IT jobs and EHR vendor profits). But Dubos might argue that successful EHR adoption should require measurable social and ecological benefits in the communities where the technologies are deployed, after consideration of the ‘big picture’ in which health spending is one among many societal priorities competing for limited societal resources, and therefore ought to be conservative.

The US’ current EHR adoption strategy channels money directly to doctors and hospitals, among the most privileged professional groups in any community. It could, instead, send those funds directly into the communities served, focusing on the local circumstances that result in fragmented, disorganized, and inconsistent health care delivery within driving distances of its citizens. EHR technologies could address communities’ continuity and access-to-care problems, and relate these to major preventative and chronic illness management challenges, e.g. vaccinations, obesity, and risks of heart disease. More and more people in adjoining communities could be reached by building on successes. Lowering health costs nationally is an important goal, to be sure. Maybe the best way to get there is to stimulate uses of health IT to improve individual and community health through local action. (It goes without saying that the system’s financial incentives would also have to be re-aligned.)

Thinking globally and acting locally would require us to study and plan how EHRs might benefit different communities, as unique populations with particular health risks, public health problems, and care delivery challenges. We would have to study those risks and challenges in each community, or in groups of neighboring communities. This is not easy, and it can be time consuming.

But the alternative, which seems to be to spend huge amounts of state, federal, and local dollars on one-size-fits-all health IT projects, top-down EHR systems that work for the VA or DOD but probably nowhere else, or data exchange efforts that may not be capable of solving, or even suitable to, the problems most at hand in that locale, could be simply disastrously wasteful by comparison. What works in central Indiana, quite honestly, may not be the right thing for Green Bay, Wisconsin, Helena, Montana, or Pamlico County, North Carolina.

Principle 2: Make the best possible use of existing IT resources before building or installing expensive new EHR systems.

Rather than ask “What could we do if everyone had computer systems like the most advanced large groups, e.g. Kaiser or the VA, let’s ask “What could we accomplish if we utilize the computers everyone already has?”

Experience has shown that it is not wise to expect big and complicated things to somehow become small and simple. For one thing, costs don’t necessarily scale. In contrast, though, the evidence is now overwhelming that with browser-based software running on personal computers and cell phones, and small applications running on hand-held devices, like the iPhone, consumer use can grow at extremely rapid rates and lead to complex social networks, rapid communications and feedback loops, and massive search and data analysis capability.

Examples abound of the kinds of resources available through inexpensive personal computers connected to the Internet, cell phones, and the newer smart phone technologies. Skype, the Internet-based voice communications company, has over 500 million registered users world-wide, which would make it the largest telecom carrier, if it were one. The top 25 wireless providers globally already service over 3 billion registered customers. The iPhone, introduced in 2008, has more than 57 million users, the fastest user growth in consumer technology in history, many times faster than the earlier rapid growth in PCs or the Apple iPod. Facebook – the social network platform where people send email, chat, share photos, and share interests – now has 350 million users and is growing at 660,000 per day! Lest we forget, these ubiquitous technologies are not just used for fun and games: massive amounts of data are being exchanged as well. And they are getting cheaper to own and operate all the time.

And yet they are for the most part useful only at the margins of health care, an industry that has somehow walled itself off from IT modernity. We certainly have not yet capitalized on the health and medical uses of the extraordinary networked computing resources available now in almost every home and work site in this country. EHRs for a small planet need not cost $54,000 per physician, which is the current estimate used by ONC and HHS.

It would be a critical mistake to waste our resources, time, and effort building new specialized state or regional data centers requiring complex and proprietary identity management technology for access, and to train a generation of IT professionals how to manage these expensive centers and the technology deployed there, when better design and efficiency could be obtained by use of the existing “off the shelf” general- and multi-purpose data highways, application platforms, and end-user computing capacity now available for health data exchange.

Principle 3: Design EHRs for the smallest unit of care delivery, with a focus on connectivity and communications.

Connectable EHRs can be designed for small medical practices and clinics in primary care, where the great majority of care is delivered, and for patients’ themselves — in their homes and places of work. Designed from the local, grassroots perspective, EHR technologies would also focus on affordability, ease-of-use, and especially on connectivity and continuity of information across those units in a given community, using existing computers, cell phones, the Internet, and yes, even fax machines.

Our current approach to health care IT, in contrast, is biased towards the needs of a handfull of professionals working in a relatively small number of large enterprises, such as hospital systems, and in large multi-specialty practices. These large units typically represent the most complex “use cases” for EHRs, based on the needs of the most complicated and sickest patients, requiring the most intensive usage of drugs and pharmaceuticals, and at the far end of the spectrum in terms of complicated ancillary medical devices, such as MRIs, medicated stents and proton accelerators.

These large health care units are often fiercely competitive and have little use for data exchange with competitors, and even less interest in using computing resources to reach across the communities they serve. As a result, they may be among the least appropriate and least competent stewards of community-based health IT resources. And yet their representatives dominate the steering committees and governance boards for the nation’s health information exchanges (HIEs) and regional health information organizations (RHIOs), where a big chunk of the federal funding is now going.

If waste is the failure of design, then designing EHRs for a small planet would avoid lengthy and disruptive installations and long training cycles involving expert consultants. Instead, they would favor modular, browser-based EHR software that are familiar to physicians, their staffs, and their patients, and that can be navigated simply.

Implicit in this design priniciple is a requirement for minimal training that focuses on how to use the software to best improve care, rather than on which buttons to push in which sequence to optimize fee-for-service reimbursement. EHR software that looks more like Facebook and less like a database manager’s tool kit, that can work through web browsers and mobile devices, and that can be incrementally expanded as new uses arise, is not only likely to be more adoptable than today’s EHRs, but also less expensive to own and operate.

Principle 4: Recognize that what sustains most information technologies is people’s desire to connect with one another.

Email is the “killer app” of the Internet. Facebook and Twitter have become the amazingly fast growing online social networks. Human beings seek connection at nearly every opportunity. Technologies that facilitate that connectedness and then provide key utilities are most likely to succeed.

Maintaining and restoring health, preventing disease, and the act of caring for others who are in need due to problems of the body and mind: these are among the most basic social activities of human beings, our communities, and our cultures. And yet, for complex reasons associated with money and power, our health system and the care it delivers is too often fragmented, dis-connected, and isolated. And its technological disconnection is both a symptom and a substrate of this phenomenon. Physicians and nurses face many barriers in communicating amongst themselves, with their patients and with their patients’ caregivers. The current crop of EHR products do virtually nothing to address this problem. In fact, EHRs in the US may have exacerbated our health care dis-connectedness.

EHRs that can share data, information, and connect the experience of patients, caregivers and doctors more directly are much more likely to be utilized at the community level than EHRs that in essence capture and remove data, isolating them and their potential social uses in faraway databases that no one can get into.

The huge success of health-related social websites – like PatientsLikeMe.com, DiabeticConnect,com and Sermo.com – are testament to the desire that many people have to close what Adam Bosworth has called the “collaboration gap” that stands between the limitations of the legacy health care system and the almost infinite benefits that arise from participating in self-help and online socializing activities. People who share their experiences – and data about themselves – know that this is helping them close the collaboration gap. But this gap is being perpetuated by EHRs that are organization- and enterprise-centered, and can only be substantially closed if physicians and medical groups in communities around the country use EHR technology to leapfrog over the communications and socialization barriers inherent in their older technologies. This will require new forms of EHR technology capable of socialization, which we have described elsewhere as Clinical Groupware.

Principle 5: Separate data from the applications and from the transport layer.

It is a stunningly simple yet powerful feature of the most familiar and widely-used information technologies that data – the message – is deliverable regardless of the sending or receiving applications, and independent of the network or transport layer that carries it. Email messages can be sent and received via many hundreds of client applications (what you and your computer use to compose the email or to display a received email.) Email and messaging services can carry many dozens of different kinds of attachments, e.g. pdf documents, across both open and secure networks, and networks with different kinds and levels of security protection in place.

This is a small planet idea that is the direct consequence of the openness of Internet protocols, but one that has not yet become incorporated in US health care, where data messages, applications, and network transport protocols remain unendingly, even stupifyingly, proprietary. Not only do these approaches perpetuate “walled gardens” – hospitals using one EHR system can’t send a simple electronic medical summary to another hospital using another EHR system across the street — but it also is a barrier to the innovators who would design, build and implement new, low cost applications like modular EHRs.

Clay Shirky makes this point in a blog post recently:

Thus the question for broad participation… is not: “What will the most complete system look like for the richest and most technically adept institutions?” Rather, it is: “What’s the simplest and most low cost way for a small vendor or new market entrant to get a small practice tied in?”

…Here’s what a workable set of transport standards will not do: It will not assume to know what kind of applications any given network participant is running locally. Once the data are delivered, it should be usable by everything from the simplest to the most complex application, since the recipient of the data will have the best understanding of what works in their local context.

This ability to separate data from transport and applications from data is the essential pre-condition for innovation — a group that has a valuable new idea for presentation of data for clinical use should not also be forced to think about the data encoding or the way the data are transported. Groups working on new data encodings should not be tied to a pre-existing suite of potential applications, nor should they have to change anything in the transport layer to send the new data out, and so on.

Patients and doctors in offices, homes, laboratories and pharmacies most often need information, and most often they need it in the form of small amounts of summary data such as a medication or problem/diagnosis list, a specific allergy, a limited number of recent or historically important lab tests or images. Where there is continuity of care and information flow, especially, there is rarely the need to access the complete or comprehensive medical record or its full contents.

For most ambulatory and outpatient clinical care needs, simple dashboard and summary health “EHR light” products may be sufficient, and there is a logical progression towards more complex health IT as the acuity of care increases. Modular design of EHR technologies may help to bridge this gap without creating large discontinuities of user interfaces and may also keep prices for health IT in the community setting at a lower point than otherwise.

*****

In the U.S., many of our health problems result from the growing burden of chronic diseases occasioned both by an aging population and our sedentary lifestyles. In much of the developing world, by contrast, the local health problems – pandemics like HIV/AIDs, malaria, and drug-resistant tuberculosis – result from poverty and a lack of basic public health resources. However, similar EHR technology in each of these settings can provide efficient health data exchange and information management. Both individual and population health status could be improved with medical records that are inexpensive, simple to use, and capable of network exchange

To this point, each of the above principles for small planet health IT is already being put in place effectively in many developing countries, where cell phones are used to remind patients of their medication regimens and are the vehicle for relaying laboratory test results and vaccination information from provider to provider in sparsely populated and very resource-limited communities. As part of the Millenium Villages Project in Ghana, for example, cell phones are part of a program that is dramatically improving the chances of survival for pregnant women and their newborns.

Our brethren in other countries, developed and developing, face many of the same challenges obtaining good quality health care that we do here in the United States, including realizing the promise and hope offered by health IT. If we persist in federal EHR policies that “over-serve” local US communities’ needs by developing complex and expensive systems of health IT, we may not only be missing the mark at home. We might also be missing the opportunity of helping the other inhabitants of this small planet.

David C. Kibbe MD, MBA and Brian Klepper, PhD write together about health care technology, market dynamics and reform. Their collected writings can be found here.

A Message to America’s Physicians: Purchasing EHR Technology A Shaky State of Affairs

By Brian Klepper and David Kibbe

Much of the conversation and debate about physician EHR adoption has centered on the single issue of the (high) cost of purchase.  However, we’d like to suggest that the situation is much more complex and involves several more subtle variables.

Consider, for example, uncertainty about the future.  In a recent speech, Lawrence Summers, Director of the White House’s National Economic Council for President Barack Obama, related the following analysis about decision-making under conditions of uncertainty in the marketplace, which he had first heard from Ben Bernanke, current Chairman of the Federal Reserve, in a speech Mr. Bernanke gave over 30 years ago:

“If you as a business were considering buying a new boiler, and if you knew the price of energy was going to be high, you would buy one kind of boiler.  If you knew the price of energy was going to be low, you’d buy another kind of boiler.  If you didn’t know what the price of energy was going to be, but you thought you would know a year from now, you wouldn’t buy any boiler at all.  And in exactly that way, it is illustrated that the reduction of uncertainty, through the resolution of disputes, is, I would suggest, all important, if we are to maintain confidence.”Continue reading…

Advice For State REC Planners

By DAVID C. KIBBE & BRIAN KLEPPERKathleen-sebelius

On August 20th, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and ONC head David Blumenthal announced $598 million in grants to set up about 70 “regional extension centers” (RECs) that will help physicians select and implement EHR technologies. Another $564 million will be dedicated to developing a nationwide system of health information networks.

The RECs are based on the example of agricultural extension offices, established over 100 years ago by Congress, which offered rural outreach and educational services across the country. These extension services made America’s agricultural revolution possible, dramatically increasing farm productivity. By analogy, the Administration hopes that on-the-ground health IT trainers and implementation experts can facilitate small medical practices’ adoption of EHR technologies, especially in rural and under-served areas, enhancing care quality and efficiency around the US.

The comparison between RECs and agricultural extension offices is probably a good one, and we applaud this effort. But there are some striking differences between agriculture and health IT. For one thing, many best farming practices were well known by the early days of agricultural extension services. The road map under ARRA/HITECH for successful small medical practice health IT acquisition and use is still under development, and remains full of tough questions and unknowns.

In fact, under Dr. Blumenthal’s leadership, the government is now crafting specifications for Meaningful Use, HHS Certification, security, and interoperability. It’s not yet clear what “meaningful use of certified EHR technology” means. So we could be in a cart-before-the-horse situation. It might be a little premature to set up technical assistance programs if we can’t provide specific guidance on how to assist. Even fully CCHIT-certified comprehensive EHRs can’t meet the Meaningful Use criteria today, so the REC’s geek squads will have their work cut out for them.

However, a body of knowledge and experience already exists about successful health IT system implementation in small primary care and specialty practices. For several years, one of us (DCK) worked under the auspices of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), helping family physicians’ practices prepare, select, implement, and maintain information technology offered by EMR and EHR vendors. The AAFP’s current Center for HIT staff has expanded this effort, assembling an impressive body of resources and tools. It was augmented as well by the work of the Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) that participated in the Doctors Office Quality-Information Technology (DOQ-IT) programs between 2006-2008.

Some of this knowledge is anecdotal, and should certainly be revised in light of the definitions and specifications that the ONC will issue later this year and likely finalize by spring of 2010, according to Dr. Blumenthal. But the AAFP’s and QIO’s hard-won lessons may be useful to those who are planning the new effort.

Here’s some broad guidance for state planners who are applying for these grants and who hope to set up their RECs by early 2010.

  1. Keep your advisory services simple and targeted on solving actual problems. Hire people with hands-on medical practice experience, who will carefully listen to what physicians and practice managers want the EHR technology to do for them and their patients. Physicians in small practices generally will use EHRs in caring for patients and for managing office accounts. Overwhelming change won’t be welcomed. Instead, focus on incremental implementations that try to solve information management problems without interrupting work flows.Start with one system or workflow area, gaining success and then moving on to another. For example, some practices may be ready to implement ePrescribing, but are not ready to replace paper records with an electronic documentation system. Many practices have found that  Web portals facilitating patient communications are a good EHR starting point, because they let doctors and patients exchange information online and asynchronously, easing telephone line congestion.
  1. One size does not fit all. General IT skills are useful. New rules will soon specify how physicians and hospitals can qualify for the HITECH incentive payments and which products will be certified. Even so, there may be many different routes to successful EHR use. A flexible perspective is paramount. Favor advisers with generalized health IT system knowledge, rather than expertise with a particular vendor’s product.Some medical practices will choose a single-vendor EHR with all the added features, but others will mix and match modular applications that together create can minimum system capability needed for HITECH meaningful user status and incentive payments.

    Similarly, some practices will prefer to locate data servers inside their practices or at the community hospital. Others will opt for Clinical Groupware, web-based and remote services EHR technologies that offer less hassle and expense for maintenance and security. Recognizing and differentiating between EHR technology offerings is going to be a major challenge for REC personnel in the near future.

  1. Skate to where the puck will be. The old paradigm of health data management tried to collect a patient’s complete data in a single database application, owned, maintained and controlled by a particular organization. However, throughout other disciplines, information management has become Web-centric and based on meta-data searches augmented by real-time communications and shared group activities.  Think Wikipedia, Google docs, Microsoft Sharepoint, the Apple iPhone, and, yes, even Facebook, as representative of where health IT is migrating over the next few years.Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, and a member of the President’s Council on Science and Technology, PCAST, recently urged President Obama and David Blumenthal to consider Web-based technologies as the basis of the national health information network.  He warned that “the current national health IT system planned by the administration will result in hospitals and doctors using an outdated system of databases in what is becoming an increasingly Web-focused world. The approach will stifle innovation.” Mr. Schmidt’s advice, and similar advice from Craig Mundie of Microsoft, is coming from within the Administration, not from outside it. In other words, it’s much more likely to be heeded than if were it coming from the opposition.

    We hope that ONC’s specifications, issued as guidance to the RECs by mid-2010, reflect market-driven innovations that can reduce the cost and complexity of EHR technology acquisition and use. Otherwise we’re in for a national exercise in chaos.

  1. Don’t waste time re-inventing the wheel. Every REC should network with every other REC, regardless of location or stage of development, to share lessons and experience, and to avoid wasted effort. In the past, for example, regional helper organizations – some QIOs and medical societies – independently formed exclusive contracts with one or two EHRs vendors, hoping these arrangements would simplify choices and implementation. These proprietary relationships were invariably unsuccessful for the helper organization and for the practices.Physicians and their organizations want to make health IT selections based on their own situations and needs. But almost always, they will seek the same kinds of IT support during implementation: e.g. networking, set up, Internet connectivity, security, and basic computer skills training for staff and physicians alike.

    RECs should collaborate on tools and instruction kits where ever possible: each REC doesn’t need to develop its own HIPAA privacy and security guide book, for instance. Remember that peripheral devices, such as printers, fax machines, and modems, are part of every office’s set up, and that these items can be troublesome to set up and use.

  1. Come to the task understanding that successful HIT implementation requires fundamental process re-design. We’ve learned this the hard way. Unless health IT helps re-design practice work and information flow processes so they can be more efficient and quality-promoting, then the IT is simply an expensive appliance. Process re-design also can determine whether the EHR technology deployment produces a return on investment (ROI). For example, re-designing the documentation process to reduce or eliminate dictation transcription services, relying instead on EHR data entry by office staff and the physicians themselves, can save money and lead to an ROI within 12-24 months. We have seen this occur frequently. On the other hand, practices that continue dictation at the old levels are simply adding new data capture expense, making it harder to justify the investment.

States are hurrying to get access to this stimulus money. Many organizations aspiring to be RECs are focused on the rapid grant/award cycles. But its critical for planners to focus on what it will take to get the job done, and setting the groundwork for effective regional centers that can offer thousands of practices the help they need.

David C. Kibbe MD MBA is a Family Physician and Senior Advisor to the American Academy of Family Physicians who consults on healthcare professional and consumer technologies. Brian Klepper PhD is a health care market analyst.

“Meaningful Use” Criteria as a Unifying Force

Over the past several years, many diverse initiatives have arisen offering partial solutions to systemic problems in the U.S. health care non-system.

We see Meaningful Use Criteria recommended by the HIT Policy Committee as a unifying force for these previously disparate initiatives. These initiatives have included:

  • Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs)
  • Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs)/Health Information Exchanges (HIEs)
  • Payer Disease/Care Management Programs
  • Personal Health Record Platforms — Google Health, Microsoft HealthVault, Dossia, health banks, more to come
  • State/Regional Chronic Care Programs (e.g., Colorado, Pennsylvania, Improving Performance in Practice)
  • Accountable Care Organizations — the newest model being proposed as part of national reform efforts

Today

While there are some commonalities and overlap, to-date these initiatives have mostly arisen in isolation and are highly fragmented — they’re all over the map. Here’s a graphic representation of the fragmentation that exists today:

Continue reading…

Why Standards Matter (1): The True Meaning of Interoperability

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Americans are generally skeptical of words that otherwise intelligent and articulate people can’t pronounce.  “Interoperability,” like nu-cu-lar, is one of these. After a while, these words can take on a mystique all their own.But interoperability is a hugely important word in the context of today’s ongoing debate about the use of EHR technology by physicians, hospitals, and patients too. The federal government is going to provide billions of dollars to encourage today’s fragmented health care providers to convert from mostly paper to mostly computerized information systems. It is critically important for these systems to talk with one another. We want health data to flow between and among these systems and to be, well, interoperable.  And it isn’t now.

So how can this word be so difficult to put into action?  Here’s a clue: a lot of people are confused about its meaning.Continue reading…

Why Standards Matter (1): The True Meaning of Interoperability

-2

Americans are generally skeptical of words that otherwise intelligent and articulate people can’t pronounce.  “Interoperability,” like nu-cu-lar, is one of these. After a while, these words can take on a mystique all their own.

But interoperability is a hugely important word in the context of today’s ongoing debate about the use of EHR technology by physicians, hospitals, and patients too. The federal government is going to provide billions of dollars to encourage today’s fragmented health care providers to convert from mostly paper to mostly computerized information systems. It is critically important for these systems to talk with one another. We want health data to flow between and among these systems and to be, well, interoperable.  And it isn’t now.

So how can this word be so difficult to put into action?  Here’s a clue: a lot of people are confused about its meaning.

Continue reading “Why Standards Matter (1): The True Meaning of Interoperability”

Return to McAllen: A Father-Son Interview

By now, Dr. Atul Gawande’s article on McAllen’s high cost of health care has been widely read.  The article spawned a number of responses and catalyzed a national discussion on cost controls and the business of medicine.  It even made it’s way into the President’s address to the AMA.

Almost overnight, McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley were thrust into the national health care spotlight – the once sleepy border town became, not a beacon on a hill, but a balefire in the valley, representing much of what is wrong with the current medical culture.

But, McAllen wasn’t always like something from an old Western, where doctors run wild and hospital CEO’s compete like town bosses.  I remember McAllen quite differently.  I remember it, because as it turns out, it was where I was born.Continue reading…

A Dream of Reason

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The dream of reason did not take power into account…Modern medicine is one of those extraordinary works of reason…But medicine is also a world of power.

-Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, 1984

Today’s unveiling of a Declaration of Health Data Rights is an important action, long overdue, that represents a collaborative effort by a group of health care professionals – activists, entrepreneurs, technologists and clinicians – all colleagues we hold in high esteem.

The Declaration’s several points arise from a single, simple premise: that patients own their own data, and that that ownership cannot be pre-empted by a professional or an institution. And there lies its power, especially in the context of early 21st Century health care. It is a transformative ideal that currently is not the norm. But we join our colleagues in declaring that it should be.Continue reading…

Clinical Groupware: When Not-As-Good Is Actually Better

By

In a February 13, 2009 blog post I introduced the idea of Clinical Groupware as a low cost, modular, and cloud computing alternative to traditional electronic health record technology for physicians and medical practices. Central to the concept of Clinical Groupware is IT support for care coordination and continuity, achieved through shared access to personal care plans and point-of-care decision supports. In this post I’d like to put a few more ideas on the table, specifically with respect to the market niche that Clinical Groupware may ultimately fill, including comments by several individuals whose opinions or work may be crucial to the success of Clinical Groupware over the next 1-3 years.  (Anything farther out than that is simply dreaming.)  Consider this an interim report on an emerging story with an indefinite timeline.

Interest in this topic has been, of course, heightened by the recently passed federal AARA/HITECH, provisions of which will provide incentive payments to physicians of as much as $44,000 over a five year period commencing in 2011, provided that the physicians can demonstrate the “meaningful use” of “certified EHR technology.” It’s always more exciting when there’s real money in the mix. Will Clinical Groupware qualify as “certified EHR technology?”  Many physicians and developers are hoping it will. Here’s why.Continue reading…

The Health Industry’s Achilles Heel

“You never want a serious
crisis to go to waste.”

– Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff

ALP_H_BK_0010 Timing matters. The health industry has demonstrated steadfast
resistance to reforms, but its recently diminished fortunes offer the Obama
Administration an unprecedented opportunity to achieve meaningful change. The
stakes are high, though. The Administration’s health team must not miscalculate
the industry’s goals, or waver from goals that are in the nation’s interest.
The two are very different.

Aligning the forces of reform will be the first challenge. The White House and Congressional Democrats appear to be
collaborating
to develop a unified reform design. Even so,
the effort is hardly pure. Lawmakers have been receptive to industry influence.
The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics
reports that, in 2009, health care interests have already spent $128 million on
Congressional lobbying contributions, more than any other sector
.
The tide now turned, most of that largess has gone to Democrats.

Continue reading…

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